[Notes] Intertextuality by Daniel Chandler

  • “Intertextuality refers to far more than the ‘influences’ of writers on each other. For structuralists, language has powers which not only exceed individual control but also determine subjectivity. Structuralists sought to counter what they saw as a deep-rooted bias in literary and aesthetic thought which emphasized the uniqueness of both texts and authors (Sturrock 1986, 87). The ideology of individualism (with its associated concepts of authorial ‘originality’, ‘creativity’ and ‘expressiveness’) is a post-Renaissance legacy which reached its peak in Romanticism but which still dominates popular discourse. ‘Authorship’ was a historical invention. Concepts such as ‘authorship’ and ‘plagiarism’ did not exist in the Middle Ages. ‘Before 1500 or thereabouts people did not attach the same importance to ascertaining the precise identity of the author of a book they were reading or quoting as we do now’ (Goldschmidt 1943, 88). Saussure emphasized that language is a system which pre-exists the individual speaker. For structuralists and poststructuralists alike we are (to use the stock Althusserian formulation) ‘always already’ positioned by semiotic systems – and most clearly by language. Contemporary theorists have referred to the subject as being spoken by language. Barthes declares that ‘it is language which speaks, not the author; to write is… to reach the point where only language acts, “performs”, and not “me”‘ (Barthes 1977, 143). When writers write they are also written. To communicate we must utilize existing concepts and conventions. Consequently, whilst our intention to communicate and what we intend to communicate are both important to us as individuals, meaning cannot be reduced to authorial ‘intention’. To define meaning in terms of authorial intention is the so-called ‘intentional fallacy’ identified by W K Wimsatt and M C Beardsley of the ‘New Critical’ tendency in literary criticism (Wimsatt & Beardsley 1954). We may, for instance, communicate things without being aware of doing so. As Michael de Montaigne wrote in 1580, ‘the work, by its own force and fortune, may second the workman, and sometimes out-strip him, beyond his invention and knowledge’ (Essays, trans. Charles Cotton: ‘Of the art of conferring’ III, 8). Furthermore, in conforming to any of the conventions of our medium, we act as a medium for perpetuating such conventions.” [Chandler. 2014]


  • “In 1968 Barthes announced ‘the death of the author’ and ‘the birth of the reader’, declaring that ‘a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination’ (Barthes 1977, 148). The framing of texts by other texts has implications not only for their writers but also for their readers. Fredric Jameson argued that ‘texts come before us as the always-already-read; we apprehend them through the sedimented layers of previous interpretations, or – if the text is brand-new – through the sedimented reading habits and categories developed by those inherited interpretive traditions’ (cited in Rodowick 1994, 286, where it was, with delicious irony in this context, cited from Tony Bennett). A famous text has a history of readings. ‘All literary works… are “rewritten”, if only unconsciously, by the societies which read them’  (Eagleton 1983, 12). No-one today – even for the first time – can read a famous novel or poem, look at a famous painting, drawing or sculpture, listen to a famous piece of music or watch a famous play or film without being conscious of the contexts in which the text had been reproduced, drawn upon, alluded to, parodied and so on. Such contexts constitute a primary frame which the reader cannot avoid drawing upon in interpreting the text. The concept of intertextuality reminds us that each text exists in relation to others. In fact, texts owe more to other texts than to their own makers. Michel Foucault declared that: The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network… The book is not simply the object that one holds in one’s hands… Its unity is variable and relative. (Foucault 1974, 23)” [Chandler. 2014]


  • “The notion of intertextuality problematizes the idea of a text having boundaries and questions the dichotomy of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’: where does a text ‘begin’ and ‘end’? What is ‘text’ and what is ‘context’? The medium of television highlights this issue: it is productive to think of television in terms of a concept which Raymond Williams called ‘flow’ rather than as a series of discrete texts. Much the same applies to the World Wide Web, where hypertext links on a page can link it directly to many others. However, texts in any medium can be thought of in similar terms. The boundaries of texts are permeable. Each text exists within a vast ‘society of texts’ in various genres and media: no text is an island entire of itself. A useful semiotic technique is comparison and contrast between differing treatments of similar themes (or similar treatments of different themes), within or between different genres or media. Whilst the term intertextuality would normally be used to refer to allusions to other texts, a related kind of allusion is what might be called ‘intratextuality’ – involving internal relations within the text. Within a single code (e.g. a photographic code) these would be simply syntagmatic relationships (e.g. the relationship of the image of one person to another within the same photograph). However, a text may involve several codes: a newspaper photograph, for instance, may have a caption (indeed, such an example serves to remind us that what we may choose to regard as a discrete ‘text’ for analysis lacks clearcut boundaries: the notion of intertextuality emphasizes that texts have contexts). ” [Chandler. 2014]

Chandler, D. (2014) Intertextuality. [Online] Visual Memory. March 7th. Available from: http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/S4B/sem09.html [Last Accessed: 11/02/2017]


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